PALM SPRINGS, California -- I’m standing straight up on the foot pegs, leaning over the handlebars of an all-new 2015 Ducati Scrambler. I’m watching the front wheel spin as the pavement below passes by. I look up and see a pack of seven other Scramblers. I look back -- seven more Scramblers. The pine smell is overwhelming and delicious as we speed through the mountains above Palm Springs.
I squeeze the bike’s clutch, blip its throttle, downshift, and let my knees bend as I release the clutch and pin the throttle. The Scrambler jumps forward, growling excitedly like a dog being let off its leash, and I hop off the pegs and land on the seat with a thump, letting the heels of my riding boots skip along the ground. You don’t ride the 2015 Ducati Scrambler so much as you play on it.
Loosen up and have a laugh
The 2015 Ducati Scrambler will coax even the most rigid riders to loosen up and have a laugh. It’s both traditional and cheeky, and especially so in the base trim we’re riding, the Scrambler Icon. There are three other approachable trims as well. The Classic is a retro version with patterned seat upholstery. The Full Throttle has been inspired by flat-track racing bikes. And the Urban Enduro is a brash but still friendly version that looks ready for dirt (even though it’s really not).
Every 2015 Ducati Scrambler is powered by the same engine, a detuned version of the Ducati Monster S2R’s air-cooled, longitudinal 803cc V-twin that delivers 75 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque. Matched with a six-speed transmission, this straightforward powertrain with its friendly powerband is meant to appeal to riders new to motorcycling that the Scrambler hopes to attract.
Ducati wants to become the Mini of the motorcycle world (or maybe we should say GTI, since Ducati is now owned by Volkswagen).
By turning Scrambler into a lifestyle brand, Ducati aims to leverage its powerful corporate brand identity in a way that will attract new and experienced riders. Just like Mini, the strategy here is all about factory customization. The 2015 Ducati Scrambler has an extensive list of options that includes protective headlight grille, handlebar mirrors, tank bag, protective skidplate, high-mounted exhaust, and countless fuel-tank side panels in various designs. In addition there’s a line of Scrambler-branded shirts and sweaters and swag for those who want to flaunt that they’re part of a tightly knit “post-heritage” clique.
What’s post-heritage, you ask? It’s a term Ducati has created to describe its new bike’s character. In the early 1960s, the original Ducati Scrambler was part of a new breed of bikes that were capable of negotiating dirt trails as well as paved streets. Though it had knobby tires, a high-mounted exhaust, and ample ground clearance, it found a better footing on pavement than dirt. After a 10-year run, the Scrambler had been left behind by purebred, dirt-oriented motocross bikes and production ended as Ducati became more oriented to street performance, thanks to its now legendary V-twin with desmodromic valves.
In the years since, Ducati has become identified with adventurous Italian engineering and style in high-speed street bikes, but the company never forgot its history. As it embraced the revival of lightweight, agile, and more friendly street bikes, what became the groundbreaking Ducati Multistrada actually began with a concept called “Scrambler” that resembled the new bike we see today.
Our pack of 15 Scramblers pulls off to the side of road for a quick photo opportunity. As I take a long look at the Scrambler, it comes to me that this bike is indeed a scrambler, not a dirt bike. Sure, the Pirelli MT60 RS tires might find grip on a hard-packed dirt surface, but this is really something more like the Triumph TR6 desert sleds of the early 1960s -- a stripped-down street bike, not an adventure bike.
It’s time to ride again. I throw my right leg over the Scrambler’s low seat, a friendly 31.1 inches off the deck. With a full tank of fuel, the Scrambler weighs just over 400 pounds, so it’s easy to move around. My 5-foot-2 riding buddy finds the bike a little too tall, while I’m 6 foot 2 inches tall and find the riding position just a little cramped. That won’t keep me off this bike. It’s a cheery machine with a vibrant personality, and any shortcomings are overshadowed by its free-spirited nature.
We keep riding, and gradually big desert rocks replace pine trees as we descend the steep, winding roads toward Palm Springs. I roll off the Scrambler’s throttle, its exhaust gargling as I do. With the other riders well ahead of me, I twist the throttle wide open, and the bike builds speed instantaneously. So much speed, actually, that the right-hand turn far in the distance is suddenly in front of me. I pull hard on the front brake, push lightly with my foot on the rear brake, and put my weight into the high, wide handlebars.
The Duc stays balanced as it sheds speed. As I let off the brakes and ease on the throttle, I lean into the long right-hander. The Scrambler carves the turn with complete confidence. Not a single moment of drama. I come out of the corner, get the bike upright, yank open the throttle like a goon, and set up for the next corner that I’ll speed into too fast as well.
I’ve been hearing Scrambler this and Scrambler that so much over the course of the day that I almost forgot what this bike is -- a Ducati. The 2015 Ducati Scrambler wouldn’t be a clone of a Scrambler from the 1960s because Ducati isn’t in the business of making dirt bikes. Street performance is the game here, and the Scrambler is meant to deliver a friendly, affordable, and personalized step into the world of Ducati.
The Ducati Scrambler isn’t the Ducati Hypermotard, Ducati Monster, or Ducati Multistrada. It’s an urban banger, a bike where the adventure begins at your driveway, not the edge of town. It’s a synthesis of lightweight specification, high-tech engineering, and personalized style. Most important, it does what every scrambler, old or new, needs to do. It lets you play while you ride.
2015 Ducati Scrambler Specifications
Price as tested:$8,495
Engine:0.8L DOHC 8-valve V-twin/75 hp @ 8,250 rpm, 50 lb-ft @ 5,750 rpm
0-60 mph:3.4 sec (est)
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